‘Devenons des Afghans maintenant’
Standing in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan
by Carlos Sanvee, Secretary General, World Alliance of YMCAs
I find myself watching unfolding events in Afghanistan with a terrible mix of emotions – sadness, fear and anger foremost among them. I sense many similar feelings across our global YMCA Movement.
It helps me to try and put down my own thoughts, in the hope that they can mean something to colleagues across the YMCA family, and perhaps even help us to shape our response.
This is not a Movement-wide statement; it is one person’s often troubled reflections.
My first thoughts are for the people of Afghanistan, who have borne so much and who will now, surely, have to bear even more.
I think of the young people and children, the girls and the young women. My heart goes out to them.
I pray first for their safety, and second for some semblance of the pillars of a normal life – freedom, peace, prosperity – under new Taliban rule.
Hoping against hope, I join the world in calling on the Taliban first to protect Afghan citizens, and secondly to let them flourish.
What I understand of Islam is what I understand of all the monotheistic faiths: that it and they treasure everyone because they treasure and are treasured by Allah, by God, by Yahweh.
So I join Muslims and people of faith the world over in praying for and calling for the new leaders of Afghanistan to show us the very best of Islam.
When we look back on the 20 years since the Taliban were removed, we must also treasure some of the advances that have been made in Afghanistan – in governance, in enterprise, in infrastructure, and especially for women and for schools.
Despite immense challenges and ongoing, deep-set problems, there have been real gains, and they may just be entrenched enough to survive.
My thoughts also turn to the many, many Afghans who have given themselves wholeheartedly to this cause, and who are still passionately committed to their country being a peaceful and prosperous place.
They remain in their country, and would and could go nowhere else.
Without knowing how their vision can still come about, I fervently hope that it does.
My second thoughts are for the people of the region, and beyond.
Two of the six countries which border Afghanistan – Pakistan and China – have a YMCA presence, and we are present in India too.
Afghanistan is surrounded by countries of instability, and borders are porous.
We presume that many of those now internally displaced in Afghanistan will now attempt to cross neighbouring borders and become refugees.
Most will stay in the region; some will travel further afield.
My greatest fear is that as well as exporting refugees, Afghanistan may now export people who would inflict harm, and who have found fertile ground in that country.
So my regional thoughts very quickly become global thoughts.
Again, I do not know how this worst-case vision can in fact be avoided, but I fervently hope that it will.
What does this potential exodus of people mean for a YMCA Movement which – worldwide – runs many programmes to welcome, protect and equip migrants and refugees?
Our Community of Impact on Refugees and Migrants (coordinated within YMCA New York) is working out the response to that question.
All we do know is that we value every human being equally, and we believe fundamentally in dignity, equity and compassion.
These values will remain at the core of our response to all the most vulnerable people in our communities.
My third thoughts are for the countries who have sought to help Afghanistan.
And no one can deny that they have tried – to the tune of thousands of lives tragically lost, and trillions of dollars spent.
A good part of those dollars went on the aid and development programmes which have led to some of the advances I mention above.
But ultimately, have they succeeded?
Again, I hope against hope that some of the gains which have been made are irreversible.
But right now it looks as if the work of two decades may have been undone in just two weeks.
The reasons for that lie at so many doors, and in so many factors.
Perhaps one thing is clear, that there was a failure to plan and think through the consequences of withdrawal, leaving a legacy that is at best chaotic, and at worst woeful.
So we witness those countries asking very serious questions of themselves now. And worldwide, we see a centuries-old debate reignited on the difference between ‘intervention’ and ‘interference’.
I wonder: how can the world learn lessons as to when we do and when we don’t involve ourselves in the vexed affairs of other countries?
Meanwhile the global cry goes up: ‘We cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan’.
This situation is moving very fast, hour by hour and day by day. Our worst fears or our best hopes may yet come to light, but whatever happens we must and we will do everything that we can to respond with compassion and intelligence.
We need to analyse what this means for the region and the world, and how we as the YMCA should react.
That’s why I am hoping to organise a Movement-wide online information meeting and discussion on the issue in the coming days and weeks. Full details will follow.
Our world looks bleaker, sadder and more fractured today than I have seen for many years.
I concede that my hope may be naïve, but it is never diminished.
It lies in the Creator who has a purpose for each and every created person and each and every created place, and it lies in the resilient young people with whom I work every day, whose future is at stake.
‘Devenons des Afghans maintenant.’